I’m in St. Francis Wood doing the usual eucalyptus leaf clean-up when Ramona opens the front door and wishes me good morning. I ask how her mother is doing.
“Sleeping most of the time. Now and then she takes a little tea, maybe a spoonful of Ensure, and goes back to sleep. She says I’m so tired but when we start talking about her, her eyes pop open and she’s all there. Remember when you started working here, right before Christmas, or maybe it was Thanksgiving, it was pouring down rain and you were planting the trees. I was wondering if she’d live long enough to see the garden re-done and she’s still going.”
The trees were four ‘Little Gem’ magnolias in 36-inch boxes dropped curbside by the supplier. Miguel was drenched and muddy and I was all of that and bloody, too, having sliced my hand on a metal band. Dragging the trees, their soil saturated, up the slope of the drive on a flat dolly took everything we had. Then we had to maneuver each into its hole. Because a pipe was in the way, we removed the bottom third of the roots of one. That one is still the smallest. The other three have grown up to the sill of the second floor windows, as high as they’ll be allowed.
“It’s just a matter of when,” Ramona says.
No arguing with that. True for all of us. Well, maybe not me.
She goes back inside, and I sweep the steps and rake the curb strip. A man walking by comments, “What do you know, someone who knows how to use a rake.” Posh neighborhoods like this have to endure the leaf blowers, not to mention other stinkers. I rue it when the blow/go guys’ and my schedule coincide. Just as I congratulate myself on my luck today, a gas hedge trimmer starts up two doors over. It’s not as bad as a blower.
Fallen eucalyptus leaves, seen singly, are almost pretty, pink like flesh under your fingernails, but in plural make a garden look derelict in no time. The tall trees are grand, but I wonder whose crazy decision it was to plant them as street trees, shedding as they do eternally.
On the patio in the back garden are 2 flats of annuals that Ramona bought at the nursery. “I didn’t plant them because I couldn’t decide how,” she says. Two six-packs are sky-blue lobelia, the rest what she calls “Elysium”, i.e., alyssum. She is grateful when I tell her I’ll plant them. There are more than there is room for. I jam them wherever there’s an open square inch. Voilá, Elysian Fields.
On Fresh Air this morning, Terry Gross asked John Waters where he thought he was going after he died. “Limbo,” he joked. If I remember my catechism correctly, limbo is the canonical version of Elysium, the place where the good but unbaptized pagans lounge in loose-fitting clothes. Baptism put an indelible mark on my soul so unfortunately, I can’t be admitted. Dante portrays it as a sad place, the uppermost section of Hell, but I think it’s more like the ground floor of heaven. Not unlike a garden on a good spring day. If there is a there to cross over to when my when arrives, the first thing I’m going to do is look for a coyote to get me across the border.
“Pope Closes Limbo,” was a headline in the New York Times 3 years ago but rather than putting limbo in limbo, how about papal infallibility?
The last few mornings I’ve awakened from dreams in which I’m picking up eucalyptus leaves. That’s what you call purgatory, when you have to do it even in your sleep.